-- Sidney Crosby
was having some difficulty explaining what had just happened to his team in Wednesday night's Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
The Penguins lost Game 7 to the upstart Montreal Canadiens
, 5-2, ending not only their season but their tenure at Mellon Arena, which will be replaced next fall by the Consol Energy Center.
It will not be Pittsburgh going to a third-straight Eastern Conference Final, but rather, the No. 8-seeded Canadiens, who have not been to the third round since 1993, which just happens to be the last time Montreal won a Stanley Cup.
The defending champions, meanwhile, head home at the earliest point in the past three seasons.
"I don't have an answer," Crosby said, almost at a loss.
Wave after wave of reporters found him at his locker in the cramped home room at Mellon Arena, with just his sweater and shoulder pads removed. The same Penguins hat he has worn all season -- worn and sweat-rimmed -- was perched atop his head, a Gatorade towel resting on his knee.
And throughout the onslaught, he tried to explain the calamities that had just befallen his team -- blowing a three-games-to-two lead in this series, falling behind 4-0 in Game 7 and struggling to find offense from its big guns. Sometimes, he succeeded, other times he struggled. But during it all, he seemed to waver between feelings of bemusement, bewilderment and defiance.
Crosby's game, in fact, encapsulated fairly accurately the Penguins' night on Wednesday.
The captain finished without a point and was minus-2. He had five shots, but missed four others and committed two turnovers. He had an awesome chance on the power play early in the third with his team trailing 4-2, but he was stoned by Jaroslav Halak
, who allowed Crosby to score only one goal in this seven-game series.
Most grievously, perhaps, he took a boarding penalty just 10 seconds into the game that set up Montreal's first goal and started an avalanche that eventually buried Pittsburgh's dreams of back-to-back Stanley Cups.
: Was the series typified by that power play early in the third where you guys had some opportunities, but Halak was able to make the saves?
: I don't know if that is the story of series, but that could have given us a better chance to get something out of this or find a way to win. Again, when the games are close, it came down to execution and capitalizing. If you look, even the games we lost in the series, we did have the lead at different points. They did some really good things. They protected the lead when they got it and found ways to build on it when they got it. Tonight, they got a big lead. They did a lot of good things that good teams need to do to win. Unfortunately for us, we didn't do that.
: Was there a time when you felt the series got away from you guys?
: No. We out-chanced them 2-to-1 for 6 games. I don't believe it ever got away from us. I think, looking back at the series, you look back at Game 4 and we have the lead there and we get a couple of bad breaks and maybe things would have been different then. But you can always look back. It's easy to be a Monday morning quarterback. It came down to execution and it came down to one game -- that's basically it. They played better and, unfortunately, we did not play well.
: Does the toll of two long seasons come into play at some point?
: I'm not going to sit here and complain about playing Stanley Cup Finals and Olympic gold-medal games. That's a good problem to have and you have to deal with it. There are times when it is a grind and you have to deal with it. By no means is that any excuse or any reason for anything. I would never blame that on anything. Those are great things to be a part of and you have to find a way to still produce and be successful.
: Could you in your worst nightmare imagine getting down four goals to that team?
: It was, but, you can ask anybody here, we all believed we could get back in that game. Down two in the third, starting with the power play -- not an ideal situation, but one that we did not think was impossible. I think our play showed it. As bad as we started, we did dig in in the second half of the game and really empty the tanks. It was a little too little too late, but we had our chances to get back in the hockey game.
: Obviously, you weren't surprised by the Canadiens in this series, but did they add another layer of willingness that you did not suspect?
: I think maybe tonight we took for granted that it was going to be another tight game. That is what we had seen all series. We had seen a very patient team from them and maybe we just got caught waiting a little bit, waiting for our chances and that is not really the way we play. We go after teams and we were just a little too cautious. We got caught on our heels and they capitalized on our mistakes. I don't think we ever took them for granted. We respected them.
: Are you completely healthy?
: Can you put into words losing in Game 7 and knowing this building is closing?
: I don't think it has (set in), to be honest with you. We all want that perfect ending. I don't think we have thought about, but it is disappointing. But you know what? I will say one thing -- the crowd, and the way that they responded down 4-0, was pretty incredible and I think we can all say thank you for that and appreciate it. That's the loudest I have ever heard it. It's not the way we wanted to finish here, but they should be proud in the way they supported us.